Biography

Pioneer

Peppiatt, Frank

(1927- )

Born on March 19th, 1927, Frank Peppiatt was educated at Lawrence Park Collegiate and the University of Toronto..   His first job was in 1950 as a copywriter with MacLaren Advertising, where he quickly developed a close friendship with another new employee named John Aylesworth, with whom he shared an office.  They also shared a belief that life didn’t have to be dull, and quickly made names for themselves as the office jokers.

By 1952,their writing skills had them writing radio comedy series in for the CBC, and their move to television came the following year, as both writers for and performers in After Hours, the CBC’s first television comedy show, in which they performed skits and introduced film clips of top US recording stars performing their hits. Further CBC series followed for the pair, including The Big Revue (1954) and On Stage (1956).   

At this point the partners decided to drop their performing activities and concentrate on writing.   While John went off to write Cross-Canada Hit Parade, Frank became head writer for the Jackie Rae Show, and also wrote for Here’s Duffy (1958), and Music Makers ’58 and ’59 with Jack Kane.

In the summer of 1958, Frank was in the U.S. writing for the Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme Show; that fall, he started writing for the Steve Allen Show, where he was reunited with John Aylesworth.  They moved on to write an Andy Williams summer series, which in turn led to work on a Bing Crosby Special, which had Perry Como as the featured guest.  Their work so impressed Como that he asked them to join Goodman Ace to write the scripts for Como’s Kraft Music Hall series. This break gave them exposure that was to generate  two decades of steady work on music specials and variety series for the US networks, including shows starring Judy Garland, Herb Alpert, Jack Benny, Jonathan Winters, Rock Hudson, Dinah Shore, Phyllis Diller and Groucho Marx. 

Along the way Frank and John won a Peabody Award and an Emmy nomination for their writing for Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music, and Emmy nominations for specials for Julie Andrews and Sonny and Cher.

Frank and John did not forsake Canada altogether.  In 1962 they created another panel show for the CBC, with Syd Wayne.  Called Flashback, this one had a panel guessing people rather than events, and it lasted for six years. In 1966, the CBC dedicated an episode to Frank and John, titled Peppiatt and Aylesworth – A Taste of Funny, which reviewed their successes to date in Canada and the U.S., and in 1967 they were hired by the CBC to write The Spirit of ’67, a ninety-minute television Centennial special hosted by Percy Saltzman and saluting Canadians and their achievements over the first 100 years of Confederation.

 In 1969 John and Frank Peppiatt created Hee Haw for CBS. Once described as “the country and western version of Laugh In”, this fast-paced hour-long show featured skits, songs and a corny line of humour, and the first hosts were Buck Owens and Roy Clark. The series ran in the summer of 1969, and was brought back by CBS from December 1969 through July 1971. When Hee-Haw was cancelled by the network, John and Frank then put it into syndication.  Soon it was being seen on more stations than had carried it as a network show, and by 1977 it was the US’s highest-rated non-network show. It won a People’s Choice Award in 1978.  The last original episodes were produced in 1992. A spin-off, Hee-Haw Honeys, was syndicated for one year, 1978-79.  Hee Haw still stands as the longest-running comedy-variety show of its genre on American television.

From time to time over this period, Frank and John went their separate ways.   In 1976, Frank co-produced with Phil Hahn a new Sonny and Cher series for CBS, and in 1978, Frank returned briefly to his acting roots when he appeared in a recurring role as Admiral Frank Borkman in three episodes of Operation Petticoat for ABC.

In 1985, Frank and John retired from writing television as a team, after writing The New Love American Style for ABC, but they subsequently co-wrote a stage musical, Durante, which opened in Toronto in 1989 and later toured to Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In October 1996, Frank and John were invited back to Toronto, where Adrienne Clarkson dedicated an entire episode of her one-hour Adrienne Clarkson Presents series to A Tribute To Peppiatt and Aylesworth: Canada’s First Television Comedy Team. In January 2006, Frank and John appeared in Comedy Gold, a four-hour retrospective CBC television mini-series that paid tribute to the wealth of comedy talent that Canada had produced over the years.

 

 

 

Written by Pip Wedge - August, 2006

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